Kingfisher Airlines – all hype, no substance.

Seldom do I use this blog to register my dismay about things, but I wanted to let you know about the recent Kingfisher flight that I took for my family vacation to India from London.

No one can fault them for the severe snowfall we had in London in the week preceding Christmas, however they need to (a) sharpen up their communications, (b) be more honest & transparent with their customers, and (c) provide an agreeable standard of customer service.

Let me cite some examples:

On the day of the snow, all newsreports said that Heathrow was shut down, however the Kingfisher website showed the flight as being scheduled. So, after hanging on the phone for over an hour to their call-centre, we made our way to Heathrow as instructed by their operator. On arrival, I was totally dumbstruck with the mass of people in Terminal 4. Literally, there wasn’t an inch of floor space that you could occupy.

Having witnessed the scene, it was obvious to me that the airport would need to be closed, but just to check, I spoke with the Kingfisher representative at the check-in zone, who after being surrounded with the chaos around them for the whole day, suggested we check in as there was a “good chance” of us leaving, despite the fact that the plane meant to be taking us to Mumbai had been diverted to Brussels and in all probabilities wouldn’t land or take off from Heathrow that night!

Anyone in their sane mind could see what was going on around them. So, I quizzed another representative who admitted that their instructions were to encourage passengers to check in, despite knowing that they’d be nowhere for them to go. Pushing a lie is simply not acceptable or honourable.

Thankfully, we didn’t check in and made the decision to return home as in my view no flights would make it out that day. When I got back home, I learnt that Heathrow had since closed, and was therefore relieved that I didn’t follow the reps advice to check in and proceed as normal through immigration, else I would’ve been stuck without my luggage or transport with two kids and four suitcases in tow.

Over the next few days, I tried to rebook our tickets, and managed to confirm some seats for travel on Christmas Day, which I was happy to do as I had come off lightly from the experience so far. Rebooking the seats was burdensome, as for the first two days, they were unable to confirm which date they could accommodate us.

I tried contacting them (Kingfisher and Vijay Mallya – the guy who owns the airline) using all methods, including Twitter. But they seemed intent on ignoring me. I was irritated, frustrated, and felt I was wasting time.

What’s the point of getting onto a platform like Twitter if all you intend on doing is pushing your sales messages to customers. Everyone knows Twitter is about engagement and interaction. Customers hate it when companies push their marketing down their throats, and even more so when the tweets are simply irrelevant. Next time I want to know about Bollywood films, I’ll check your Twitter feed instead of Stardust magazine! What a total joke!

So, as I was traveling with my young kids, I specified their dietary preferences and booked kids meals for them, to find that they weren’t available on either leg of my flight! The vegetarian food they had onboard was far too spicy for a child and they didn’t have any alternatives. So, my kids went hungry.

The only hope I had was that the in-flight entertainment system would keep them occupied, but to find that it kept on freezing – not just for me but for many others – on both legs of the flight. I almost felt sorry for the staff on the plane, as they had to continuously push a lie to passengers who complained by saying that this was a one-off – as was confirmed by their stewardess who said “we’ve been instructed to say these faults are a one off”. Again, we unearth instructions from management for their frontline staff to push a blatant lie.

I booked Kingfisher on the recommendation of a few friends who often travel in Business Class, thinking that those of us in Economy would prevail of some of the luxuries, such as good food and a good entertainment system that would keep my kids occupied for the duration. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. We were let down, despite our tickets being more expensive than other airlines like Jet were offering, who I’ve always been perfectly happy with. I was suckered by Kingfisher’s marketing in thinking they were going to be better.

To rub it in, at the beginning of the journey, Vijay Mallya delivers a welcome message on the in-flight system saying that he’s instructed his staff to treat customers like his personal guests. If that’s the case, Mr Mallya, I dread your hospitality at home.

It’s known that Airlines make their money in Business & First Class compartments, but it’s sickening that Kingfisher takes “guests” in economy, literally, for a ride.

Going to India, for many, is a phenomenal, lifetime experience. They associate India with great hospitality. If you’re going to claim to be a flag bearer for India, please stop. You’re doing her a great disservice.

Kingfisher fails on so many levels. All hype, no substance. A definite thumbs down from us and from the sound of it, from fellow passengers on our flight.

Do Indian businesses really support sport?

I’m a big fan of all things related to sports, so it comes as no surprise when I say that the UK India Business Council put together a fantastic line-up of sports personalities at their gala dinner last week, which took place at the Royal Courts of Justice and should be congratulated. In attendance were Dame Kelly Holmes, Monty Panesar, Kapil Dev, and the guy who brought the IPL to the world – Lalit Modi.

Earlier in the day, I’d had the privilege to attend the baton relay that had been organised by Buckingham Palace to mark the start of the journey for the Commonwealth Baton, which will end up in Delhi next year. So, with athletics and sport running through my head that day, the cynic in me wondered whether Indian business actually supports sport – beyond Cricket.

We know of examples like Lakshmi Mittal supporting tennis stars, Vijay Mallya, TCS and ICICI being involved in Formula 1, but does support for athletics and other lesser publicised sports really run through the veins of India’s business leaders? In the UK, we have clear examples of corporate money from Aviva supporting athletics, is there an equivalent in India? Will the Commonwealth Games change this?

It was Dame Kelly who made the point most eloquently to me when she said that the benefits of supporting kids from the grassroots are huge. Without this investment, as a society we’re poorer for the simple reason that sports personalities have long been considered the best role models for future generations to emulate.

It’d be great to learn as to whether Indian businesses are opening up to supporting grass-roots sports. If you have a view, let me know.

Tips on Doing Business in India

I attended the UK – India Business Council Inaugural Summit in London last week and need to record my praise for their team, and in particular for Sharon Bamford and Karan Bilimoria, CEO and Chairman, respectively, for pulling off an event with such style. Whilst I could not attend the star spangled dinner that evening, I am informed that, once again, they pulled out all the stops for their guests. To mark the international expansion of Kingfisher Airlines, Vijay Mallya trumped his competition by giving each guest a free (economy) round trip ticket to India! I can’t really complain, I won the Jet raffle prize of two free tickets to India earlier that day 🙂

 

The audience at the conference seemed genuinely interested in India and what surprised me was that the vast majority of those I spoke with already had made inroads into the sub-continent. It didn’t matter if you were a one man band, a SME or a large multinational. They were all at it.

However, the one thing, I did pick up was that India was not a simple place to do business. In response to this, I offer the following five tips to make your lives easier:

1. Treat India like you treat Europe. It’s just as big in size, and has more people. If you treat India in regions, it may make your lives easier.

2. Take some intercultural training before you go. Indian’s may be familiar with English, but the softer aspects of doing business in India are often the most crucial. You need to know what signs to look out for. There’s some great books and some equally good training programmes out there.

3. Appreciate that India is not a command economy / dictatorship. By this I mean, please don’t compare India to China. Both have their advantages and weaknesses. In India, democracy runs deep. Naturally, this extends to every aspect of life and can slow decision making. But be assured, once a decision is made, it’ll probably stand the test of time.

4. India isn’t cheap. Your notions of picking up bargains (business or pleasure) belong to an era long forgotten. From the simple things such as hotel rates, internal flights, even entertainment, be prepared to pay – sure not London or New York rates, but nevertheless rates that aren’t what you may have been lead to believe.

5. Finally, in my view, India is THE land of contradictions. So much wealth, yet, so much poverty. So many educated people… so few quality educational institutions etc etc. Bear this in mind when visiting India.

The UKIBC summit reminded me of the reasons why we formed our business – India is the place to be, it still makes my pulse race faster. Well done, UKIBC.

Bollywood leads the way…

With India being all the rage in London at the moment, it was probably quite apt that the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Business Leaders Summit concluded with ICICI Bank hosting an entertainment extravaganza in their honour with Shah Rukh Khan – bollywood superhero.

Vijay Mallya, Naresh Goyal, Deepak Puri, Suhel Seth et al rubbed shoulders with their contemporaries in London to the tune of some of Bollywood’s best loved songs (as performed by SRK).

In a Q&A response, Shah Rukh reiterated that whilst Hollywood is perceived as the epicentre of films, the Indian film industry isn’t far behind and he didn’t aspire to act in Hollywood.

When delivering intercultural training programmes for Western corporates (through our India Briefing Centre), we ensure that the participants watch a 15 min slice of a Hindi film. Just by watching these clips, your senses become accustomed to the huge gulf in western and eastern cultures. Apart from the singing, dancing and overdramatized action scenes, Bollywood flicks play a central role in shaping the identities of global Indians.

Ignore them at your peril.